Foreign Policy Analysis of International Conflicts


In the paper, the basic principles and approaches of foreign policy analysis methods are discussed. Two specific cases describing the US and UK actions regarding particular international events (the Cuban Crisis and the Falklands War) are chosen as the background for the discussion. Central aspects of these meaningful incidents are evaluated by applying the state, individual, and system levels of foreign policy analysis. The use of these perspectives provides an opportunity to delve into the factors preconditioning the emergence of a conflict, its development, and particular resolution. The direct dependence of relations between states involved in the conflict, the interaction of actors and interest groups within nations, individuals actions and specific alterations in foreign policies are discovered. The findings acquired due to the application of the three levels of analysis are discussed at the end of the paper, and the key concepts regarding this issue are summarised.


Foreign policy is one of the critical elements of international discourse. For centuries it has been a central tool used by countries to empower their positions and achieve particular goals by interacting with other nations in ways outlined by their doctrines. The 20th century became a turning point in human history and diplomacys evolution. Two world wars preconditioned a significant shift in the balance of power and appearance of superstates that had been impacting international relations for decades. Their opposition, the so-called Cold War, facilitated the development of diplomacy and drastic changes in states foreign policies. At the same time, correctly realising a significance of this aspect and the impact on the international relations, political analysts revealed the necessity of its in-depth investigation to understand motifs affecting actors and negotiators decision-making and suggested different levels of foreign policy analysis.

In this regard, the paper is focused on the in-depth investigation of the existing methods of foreign policy analysis (FPA) using specific international conflicts as the background for the research. The use of the state, system, and individual levels of FPA and their application to the Cuban Crisis and the Falkland War will help to understand events preceding these conflicts, relations between nations and within states shaping foreign policies, and individuals actions that impacted decision-making. It is assumed that these approaches are a central tool of investigation that can be applied to any case with the primary aim to understand its peculiarities and either to make forecasts or to conclude about it. That is why the two suggested cases will be assessed from the perspective of the three levels mentioned above. These findings will be discussed to evaluate the basic peculiarities of these approaches and their potential. At the end of the paper, the summary of all issues is provided.


Regarding the current international situation and the tendency towards the constant emergence of conflicts and multiple tensions, foreign policy analysis remains a potent approach that might guarantee the improved comprehension of states actions and their approaches to decision making. It can also be considered a method of the comprehensive investigation of all factors that impact the management of external relations and activities of a state concerning the existing threats or problematic areas. The fact is that the concept of foreign policy includes numerous aspects such as existing strategies, methods, doctrines, relations, directives, and alliances (Breuming 2007). That is why the evaluation of a countrys functioning at the international level and its participation in the global discourse becomes a sophisticated issue.

Foreign Policy Analysis

The complexity of analysis comes from the fact that foreign policy and behaviour are shaped by the functioning of diverse interest groups within a state and their struggle to hold leading positions and promote regulations that might be beneficial for their existence. Moreover, a negotiator representing a nation at the international level depends on domestic actors and their solutions regarding particular global events (Morin & Paquin, 2018). For this reason, a certain decision or policy might be implemented because of the existence of a specific set of factors preconditioning decision-making and shifts in a political course (Morin & Paquin, 2018). It means that the analysis of only one dimension of foreign policy might not suffice existing needs for the improved understanding of nations actions. That is why the three different levels of analysis can be applied to diverse conflicts.

Individual Level

The first level is the individual one. It is focused on the investigation of how individuals actions and a decision within a state form foreign policy and precondition states participation in diverse processes shaping international intercourse (Hudson 2013). The given approach is closely connected with leadership and peoples ability to affect the evolution of sates by their actions. In such a way, the perspective accepts a unique role outstanding actors play in the evolution of nations and their cooperation with other states (Hudson 2013). Applying this perspective to diverse conflicts or events, the contribution of a particular politician to the development of a political course or appearance of particular tendencies can be investigated. For instance, WWII can be analysed through the prism of Hitlers actions and motifs driving his decision making (Eun 2013). At the same time, Napoleonic Wars and the further redistribution of power in Europe can be studied by examining the role of Napoleon and his contribution to the development of French foreign policy.

The given approach also preconditions the use of multiple cognitive theories. These are introduced with the primary aim to explain diverse alterations in foreign policies from leaders perspective and their world perception (Alden & Aron 2017). Political analysts differentiate perception, misperception, and communication as central aspects that predetermine leaders choices and their impact on the evolution of states (Newmann n.d.). Additionally, the individual level of analysis presupposes attempts to correlate peculiarities of politicians character with decisions made by them and responses to particular international events (Alden & Aron 2017). In such a way, the given approach provides investigators with an opportunity to delve in leaders motifs to understand the central causes for decision-making and the introduction of particular policies as a way to achieve outlined goals.

State Level

The second approach to FPA investigates policymaking at the state level. It means that this method delves into the foreign policy behaviour of nations regarding multiple state characteristics and features (Neack 2008). In other words, actions traditionally associated with the functioning of certain countries are accepted as logical and the only possible in terms of existing problems. To a greater degree, this sort of analysis depends on well-known definitions of behaviours and stereotypes peculiar to the functioning of different actors. For instance, modern political science offers the idea of assuming that any democratic state adheres to particular models of its development and cooperation at the international level (Doyle & Zumeta 2014). In accordance with this model, democracies do not struggle with other democracies; instead, they use negotiations as an alternative method to solve existing problems (Neack 2008). In such a way, a certain nations decision to adhere to a particular course is explained by its traditional approach to policymaking. Alden and Aron (2017) assume that foreign policy behaviour of all international actors can be considered a cultural characteristic comprised of the historical legacy, social, cultural, religious traditions, economic power, and its geographical location.

The state-level of analysis might be used to explain the emergence of particular conflicts and countries involvement in them as an attempt to preserve the existing balance of powers and protect the nations image by acting in accordance with archetypical patterns that have been peculiar to its foreign policy for decades. For instance, using this perspective, the opposition of the USA and USSR during the Cold War can be presented as these states efforts to protect missionary qualities of their foreign policies aimed at the cultivation and spread of democracy and communism correspondingly (Newmann n.d.). However, there are also multiple agents within states such as interest groups and politicians that precondition the appearance and formation of these behavioural patterns. The state-level of analysis considers these elements.

System Level

The system-level of FPA evaluates nations activity at the global level regarding the conditions and peculiarities of the international discourse. Alden and Aron (2017) assume that in this sort of analysis all factors affecting the international system are the cause while alterations in state behaviours are the effect, or an appropriate response needed to preserve the certain position and achieve a particular goal (Neack 2008). In accordance with the given approach, global intercourse is considered a system the functioning of which depends on the cooperation between all its elements. That is why central actors are not able to disregard alterations in particular states behaviours and prefer to introduce specific policies to balance the whole system and ensure that no collapse will be observed in future (Neack 2008). Under these conditions, the power of a nation within this very system and its ability to impact the development of actions and precondition the appearance of specific trends are considered the key variables that influence foreign behaviour and negotiators actions.

The system level of analysis also presupposes that every system has its systemically important aspects that impact the distribution of power and balance regarding international discourse. For this reason, every state tries to promote its position by introducing policies that might be needed to pursue its interests at this very moment. Additionally, any system presupposes the existence of powerful and weak states that are engaged in cooperation and have to act regarding the existing patterns (Neack 2008). Applying the given method to FPA, the motifs of decisions related to the balance of power and international relations with other states can be investigated.

The three levels of FPA mentioned above can be applied to diverse cases with the primary aim to investigate peculiarities of decision making and improve the comprehension of motifs and factors that facilitated the choice of a particular foreign behaviour. In such a way, these methods will be utilised while researching the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Falkland War with the pivotal aim to conduct foreign policy analysis and acquire data about factors preconditioning the development of the conflicts and their resolution in particular ways. Applying these concepts to real-life cases, we will also be able to prove the efficiency of these approaches and their outstanding role in modern political science.

The Case of the Cuban Missile Crisis

The first case under the investigation is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 or the Caribbean Crisis. A 13-day confrontation between the USA and the USSR regarding the American ballistic missile deployment in Italy and Turkey and corresponding Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba could be considered one of the most sophisticated and dramatic events of the Cold War as both superstates and the whole world came close to escalating into a nuclear war with no winners (Kroenig, M 2013). This clash was preconditioned by a chain of events and alterations in foreign policies that gradually worsened relations between the USA and USSR.

The American attempt to attack Cuba known as Bay of Pigs Invasion and the decision to place Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey resulted in the Soviet Unions intention to support Cuba in its struggle against the USA and allocate nuclear missiles on the island to protect its freedom and minimise the chances of the US invasion (Boyko 2016). To prevent the missiles delivery, a naval blockade was established on October 22 (Rushefsky 2017). The situation became critical because of the high probability of the use of power. However, in the course of long negotiations, Kennedy and Khrushchev managed to make an agreement (Matthew 2014). The USSR had to dismantle all weapons from Cuba while the USA was obliged to avoid attacking Cuba again and replace its Jupiter missiles from Turkey (Scott & Huges 2016). The given crisis became a critical event in the history of the Cold War and demonstrated the necessity of direct negotiations between states leaders.

Individual Level

The Cuban crisis can also be considered a result of the U.S attempts to make a particular foreign policy focused on opposing the USSR and preservation of the status of a superstate. The investigation of this case using the three levels of analysis mentioned above can help to acquire the enhanced comprehension of the key factors impacting the U.S. foreign policy at that period. Nevertheless, applying the individual level of FPA, the Cuban crisis can be considered an opposition between leaders of two superstates impacting the global intercourse and determining the way the international relations will evolve (Smitth 2013). As the President of the USA, Kennedy had to act in accordance with particular patterns outlined by the nations traditional vector of foreign policy and its attempts to preserve its dominance at the international level (Donnelly 2014). However, numerous aspects of the Cuban Missile crisis and the way it was resolved demonstrated a significant impact Kennedys traits and his perspective on the development of conflict had on the U.S. foreign policy of that period (Rubel 2017).

Investigators also admit that the President had to resist members of the National Security Council and a war party insisting on the further confrontation with the USSR and promoting an unannounced air strike on the missile sites on Cuba (Marshall & Prins, 2016). Regarding the two-level game theory suggested by Putnam, a chief negotiator (Kennedy) also experienced pressure from interest groups in the state and desired an agreement or a so-called win-set that would be accepted by all parties (May 2013). In other words, the President had to consider all existing points of view and use his leadership qualities to avoid direct confrontation with actors at the domestic level (Kroenig 2013). From the individual level perspective, Kennedys opposition to these parties and his ability to directly impact decision-making shaped the U.S. foreign policy of that time and facilitated the peaceful resolution of the conflict (Sherman & Tougias 2018). He managed to make an agreement with Khrushchev instead of insisting on the preservation of the existing political course and making devastating war.

State Level

Applying the state-level analysis to the case, the U.S. foreign policy behaviour can be explained by its traditional claims for global dominance and attempts to protect and cultivate democracy in different regions of the world. Additionally, the USSR had always had “an idealist streak in its foreign policy” (Newmann n.d). For this reason, for several decades the USSR had been an ideological opponent whose actions always resulted in inappropriate responses or triggered the numerous debates within the nation (Colby & Ratner 2014). One of the fundamental features of the Cold War was the existence and preservation of the bipolar system with the growing opposition between two camps headed by superstates (the USA and the USSR). For this reason, from the state levels perspective, American attempts to invade Cuba and prevent the further growth of communism can be explained by its role as the leader of the democratic world and traditional efforts to resist the Soviet Union (Rushefsky 2017).

Additionally, the nations cultural and historical legacy along with its political system cultivated a particular model of decision making focused on the gradual empowerment of the states position at the international level and its desire to remake the world in accordance with the model accepted in the states doctrine (Hook & Spanier 2018). There is also the idea that any country can be presented as a set of organisations that precondition policymaking by promoting their interests and trying to pursue their goals (Legvold 2014). From this point of view, the U.S. actions during the Cuban Crisis and became a result of the agreement between parties or organisations within the country (Sevin 2017). In such a way, the USA involvement in the conflict is a part of the foreign policy aimed at global dominance which means that the state cannot disregard significant international events.

System Level

From the system levels perspective, the confrontation of the USA and USSR because Cuba was inevitable. The given model presupposes that every state acts in a particular way because of the existing balance of power and peculiarities of the international system. These characteristics make nations to select specific measures and shape their foreign behaviour in certain ways (Bertucci 2013). The Cold War introduced a new model of international relations that presupposed a balance of power between superstates and their camps. In this regard, any action that threatened the existing model was opposed by all actors participating in the international discourse as the change in the international system would trigger changes in nations behaviours (Johansen 2016). In other words, the USA was not able to let the USSR place nuclear missiles on Cuba because it will make its position weaker and shift the balance of power. At the same time, the Soviet Union also acted regarding this system and tried to preserve its status (Warburg 2017).

In such a way, the system level of analysis can explain the U.S. intervention in Cuba and the further naval blockade as an attempt to demonstrate its significant role in the world policy and continue the struggle with the USSR (Knott 2013). Additionally, the existence of an alternative strategy to perform an unannounced strike can also be explained by applying this level of analysis. Being one of the most powerful states, it had an opportunity to use power to prove its ability to protect its interests.

The Case of the Falkland War

Another conflict that can be analysed to demonstrate how the three different levels of FPA can be applied to particular events is the Falklands War. It is a short (ten weeks) military conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina over two British dependent territories in the Atlantic Ocean: the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (Middlebrook 2012). The conflict started on 2 April 1982 with Argentinean invasion and occupation of the Falkland Islands (Middlebrook 2012). It was explained by the nations territorial claims and its desire to establish sovereignty over them (Middlebrook 2012). The UK responded immediately and sent a naval task force with the primary aim to meet an attack and return the territory. The war lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentinean forces capitulation on the islands on 14 June 1982. The attacker lost 649 military personnel; the United Kingdoms casualties comprised 255 individuals (Middlebrook 2012). The Falkland War became a meaningful event in the second half of the 20the century that reflected peculiarities of both participants foreign policies and their actions aimed at the empowerment of their positions at the international level.

Individual Level

Applying the individual-level analysis, the Falkland War can be considered as Thatchers attempt to impact the UK foreign policy, improve her position, and support the image of the nation. Revealing the situation connected with this crisis, numerous perspectives on British actions regarding the Argentinean invasion should be admitted. There were different parties supporting and opposing the use of power as an appropriate response to the aggression (Foster 2013). However, Thatchers decision to set up a War Cabinet to conduct war became central for the UK and the Prime Ministers political career (Foster 2013). Investigating the crisis, researchers admit the fact that Thatchers leadership qualities and her ability to use different mechanisms of power became central aspects that predetermined the UK entry into war and its victory (Berben & OBrien Castro 2016). In such a way, an individual-level analysis demonstrates that the British foreign policy regarding the Falkland crisis was to a greater degree shaped by the Prime Ministers actions and her vision of the states development. Additionally, it empowered her position within the country and guaranteed the needed level of popularity and support.

State Level

From the states perspective, the Falkland War is the manifestation of the UKs claims for leading positions in the world and the traditionally powerful imperial moods within a country. After WWII, the British Empire lost its colonies and transformed into a new nation (Beckett 2015). The given process also meant a significant reduction in the spheres of its influence and the loss of its leading positions (Beckett 2015). However, diverse interests groups within a state and bearers of the imperialistic mentality and a specific set of values wanted to preserve the power of the nation (Lorcin 2013). For this reason, the UK foreign policy was focused on the improvement of the nations image and demonstration of its power. From this perspective, Britain was not able to ignore that challenge as it contradicted to traditional values and motifs shaping the political course and responses to threat. Regardless of the fact that the given land did not have a significant strategic meaning, the UK engaged in the military conflict because of its historical legacy and peculiarities of culture. The Falkland war triggered numerous processes in the society that promoted the states entry into the war.

System Level

Finally, the system level analysis shows that all UK actions regarding the Falkland War were preconditioned by the states desire to preserve the existing balance in the international system. The fact is that Britain closely cooperated with the UN, and the USA, the leading powers in the world, to coordinate its actions and show that its military response is a part of the foreign behaviour aimed at the cessation of aggression that cannot be tolerated in the system (Reynolds 2013). Additionally, the international discourse presupposes the existence of powerful and weak actors that have different opportunities to impact the worlds development. For this reason, Argentinas invasion of the Falkland Islands can be explained by its desire to reconsider the balance of power and replace the UK in the existing system of the international relations. The use of military forces by Britain was inevitable regarding its attempts to save its image and ability to precondition the functioning and development of the global intercourse (Jenkins 2013). In such a way, the system level analysis demonstrates that the UK foreign policy was shaped by the existing interaction between states and distribution of power.


In general, the two cases demonstrate multiple opportunities provided by the application of the three different levels of foreign policy analysis. These approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. First, the individual approach offers an opportunity to understand the role leaders played in particular processes and the extent to which their qualities and preferences impacted decision making. However, it is limited in its ability to investigate the role other states actions played in policymaking. Additionally, the systemic level becomes disregarded. At the same time, the state level of analysis helps to understand how countries unique features, interest groups and traditional values shape foreign policies and behaviours at the international levels. Nevertheless, its central disadvantage is the decreased possibility to delve into the existing distribution of power at the international level. As for the system level of FPA, its apparent advantage is the ability to seize a wide array of factors impacting policymaking at the international level. However, it might disregard the situation within states and factors that influence the choice of particular policies and responses. That is why only the application of all three levels can help to acquire a complete image of a situation.


Altogether, the foreign policy analysis can be considered an important tool used by the political analysts with the primary aim to analyse specific actions made by states at the international level and motifs that preconditioned a certain decision making. Thus, the complexity and high sophistication of the international discourse and relations within states preceding a particular decision demand the introduction of the three levels of FPA which are an individual, state, and system ones. Their application to cases of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Falkland War shows the utility of the approaches and their ability to reveal the central features driving changes in political and foreign behaviours. At the same time, all methods have their advantages and disadvantages. For this reason, only the use of all three levels of FPA can help to create a complete image of factors shaping foreign policies.

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